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Market Updates

Could Someone Patent the Phrase “We Buy Houses”?

“We buy houses” or some variation of it is all over the real estate investing world. As a market starts heating up, the phrase starts showing up everywhere:

  • Bandit signs
  • Craigslist
  • Google searches
  • Flyers
  • Door Hangers
  • Billboards


What if all of a sudden someone tried to trademark the phrase? Then they could probably just turn their business model into suing every other real estate investor for trademark infringement.

Well one company did just that.

We Buy Houses (WBH) – a company that, surprise, surprise, promises quick cash offers for homes – once owned the phrase. Fortunately, they didn’t send out too many cease and desist notices to everyone else. They did, however, raise the ire of another real estate investing company who decided to take them to court over it.

Here is the page from the We Buy Houses website showing their trademark.

Case Details

Express Homebuyers USA filed a lawsuit against We Buy Houses in June 2017. The complaint stated that WBH’s trademark of ‘we buy houses’ should be canceled.

Judge T.S. Ellis, III, of the Eastern District of Virginia decided that the company We Buy Houses shouldn’t have the sole ownership of the statement ‘We buy houses’ and ‘webuyhouses.com’.

The company then pleaded for the judge to reconsider and claimed infringement based on the fact that they trademarked the phrase. However, the judge denied their plea.

Express Homebuyers USA also claimed that We Buy Houses filed various complaints against them accusing them of using the trademarked phrase in their YouTube videos. But when both companies and a bunch of its competitors were asked about the nature of their business, they would naturally answer, “We buy houses.”

The We Buy Houses company stood their ground saying that using the statement ‘we buy houses’ to describe the services they offer isn’t generic. Which is why, according to them, a competitor’s use of the statement is considered as an infringement. Unfortunately for them, Ellis disagreed. He explained his decision:

 “In a thorough and well-reasoned decision, Judge T.S. Ellis, III, of the Eastern District of Virginia, concluded that the federal trademarks “We Buy Houses” and “Webuyhouses.com” are generic, are not protected under trademark law, and therefore should be canceled. The court found that the phrase “we buy houses” has been used in the real estate industry since as early as 1898 in millions of newspapers and advertisements. That evidence, coupled with other evidence and the testimony of Express Homebuyer’s CEO Brad Chandler, was “overwhelming and unrefuted.”

Finding that the marks are generic and should be canceled was “logical” according to Judge Ellis because “allowing one member [of the real estate industry] to have exclusive use of the phrase ‘we buy houses’ would be the equivalent of allowing a professional football team to trademark ‘we play football’ or a fast-food chain to trademark ‘we sell burgers,’” which are phrases that should be available for all to use.”

The CEO of Express Homebuyers USA, Brad Chandler, was very happy about the outcome. He issued a statement saying, “I’m big on justice in the world and today justice has been served for Express Homebuyers and real estate investors across the United States.”

If EHB’s complaint was overlooked, thousands of real estate investors in the United States wouldn’t be able to use the important phrase “we buy houses” in all of their marketing and advertising projects. Which defeats the purpose of what advertising is all about – letting people know who you are and what you offer as a business.

The ruling is significant because, if Mr. Brandt’s company prevailed, thousands of real estate investors across the country could have been prohibited from using the vitally important phrase “we buy houses” in their marketing and advertising materials.

Having concluded that the trademarks “We Buy Houses” and “Webuyhouses.com” were generic and should be canceled, Judge Ellis also dismissed WBH Marketing’s claim that Express Homebuyers infringed on the trademarks. Judge Ellis thus threw out WBH’s multimillion dollar damages claim against Express Homebuyers.

WBH trademarked the statement ‘we buy houses’ way back in 2001. They have been registered since 2006. And it turns out, tons of other companies want to keep similar home-buying phrases to themselves.

This battle was won in the favor of real estate investors.

If this comes up in the future it may be good to know how to register a complaint with the US Patent and Trademark office (USPTO). Here’s how to do it:

  1. Go to this link for the USPTO and the form for an official ‘Letter of Protest’
  2. Enter the trademark serial number of the phrase you are protesting
  3. Click “Continue” and then the following two boxes:
    1. Mark is generic.
    2. Mark is merely descriptive or misdescriptive, or should have an element disclaimed on that basis
  4. Click “Continue” again
  5. Upload evidence. In this case you would upload files from you and all your buddies using the “We Buy Houses” phrase in your advertising.
  6. Click “Continue” and enter your personal information. Then get all your friends and fellow investors to file protests as well

Sure we're all in competition for the best deals in real estate, but that doesn't mean someone should get an unfair advantage. As real estate investors, we should all work to have a level playing field. We can all win that way!

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